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Jazz Bass® Pickups - Understanding The Replacement Options

  • 10 min read
If you have a j bass, you have a multitude of Jazz Bass® pickup options to choose from. Lucky for us bassists, there are more replacement pickups made for Fender’s® iconic model (and all the reproduction and similar basses) than any other bass.


The goal of this article is to take you through the various nuances of choosing a set of pickups. There are several things to consider - enough to make one’s head spin. However, we are going to guide you through both the objective and subjective considerations in a very deliberate way.

Our recommendation is to start by:
  1. Measuring your current pickups and understanding what can be a direct replacement in your bass.
  2. Decide if you want a set of hum-cancelling or single coil pickups.
  3. Consider the tone options by getting a sense of what the manufacturer was aiming to do with a particular pickup set... i.e. Are they looking to do a straight up, vintage-era correct pickup or did they build a pickup to be bold and gnarly?

Nearly every pickup manufacturer creates pickups for j basses. In fact, it is probably the first bass pickup model that most brands build. Largely starting out with a vintage single coil pickup, and making their way in to hum-cancelling and unique magnet designs, most pickup manufacturers offer a solid variety of pickups that are specific to Jazz Basses®.

NOTE -> For the purposes of this article, we are generally referring to any “Jazz Bass®” or “j bass” that is modeled on, and including, Fender®’s Jazz Bass®

  Jazz Bass® Pickup Sizing  

Checking dimensions is a good place to start when you are looking to get new pickups for your bass.

Intuitively, one may wager that J basses would have standardized pickup sizes, right? Unfortunately, even if we only consider 4 string j basses, there are multiple sizing combinations. Even within the Fender® lineup itself, they have used varying pickup sizes - sometimes within the same model year.

What items come into play when we think about pickup sizing?

  • Length
  • Width
  • Screw ear location

The WIDTH is, thankfully, fairly standard for both neck and bridge pickups.

Most pickup brands build their Jazz Pickups® to a width somewhere between .72” (18.29mm) and .74” (18.8mm). That .02” (two one-hundredths of an inch) is generally negligible and barely measurable for most folks.

For our purposes we can say that width is standardized.

SCREW EAR location typically corresponds with the pickup length. So we usually do not have to sweat that measurement either.

LENGTH…this is where we need to get out the ruler or micrometer :)

SIZING & FIT (4 String):

Typically, on a 4 string Jazz Bass®, we are going to find combinations of a long bridge / short neck.

'Standard' length for 4 string Jazz Bass®:
- Bridge Pickup = ~ 3.73” (94.7mm)
- Neck Pickup = ~ 3.60” (91.4mm)

All of the major pickup manufacturers fall within .01” to .02” of these lengths for their standard j bass replacement pickups. Those tiny variances, by in large, are negligible.

Unfortunately, not all bass builders/manufacturers have used the most common length sizing. Fender®, itself, has made bass models that have used a 3.60” length bridge and 3.60” length neck pickup (commonly referred to as a “short/short’ combination) for some years, following long stretches of using the more common “long/short” combo.

As you consider upgrading your pickups, take a measurement of the length of the two pickups.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you find yourself in a situation, where you have either two ‘longs’ or two ‘shorts’, do NOT fret. Many manufacturers will build non-standard ‘matched’ pickup sets. Continue reading this article, and drop us a line with your situation and we will sort out a solution for you.

Measuring 4 string jazz bass pickup length

SIZING & FIT (5 String):

Similar to 4 string j basses, 5 strings pickups have standardized widths and screw ear location.

Pickup length’s are a different story, however. Neither bass manufacturers nor the pickup manufacturers have agreed (formally or informally) upon what is the ‘standard’ 5 string Jazz Bass® pickup size - even though an individual manufacturer may use 'standard' in their model name.

Here are the 3 most common length combinations that we see (and how some of us in the industry refer to them).



More rarely, but still in existence are the following:

Non Fender® Short/Short:
- Bridge Pickup ~3.60” (91.4mm)
- Neck Pickup ~3.60” (91.4mm)

Fender® Neck size Short/Short:
- Bridge Pickup ~4.00” (101.5mm)
- Neck Pickup ~4.00” (101.5mm)

As mentioned above, there is little agreement on what neck-bridge pickup length combination is standard. So…the various brands manufacture different sizes, but not every brand manufactures all sizes.

Here is a quick list of the various brand’s offering:

Aguilar: Fender American Standard® & Non-Fender® Long/Long
Bartolini: Fender American Standard®, Non-Fender® Long/Short & Non-Fender® Long/Long
Delano: Fender American Standard®, Non-Fender® Long/Short, Non-Fender Long/Long & Non Fender® Short/Short
EMG: Fender American Standard®
Lindy Fralin: Fender American Standard®, Fender® Neck size Short/Short
Seymour Duncan: Fender American Standard®, Non-Fender® Long/Long, Non-Fender® Long/Short
Nordstrand: Fender American Standard®, Non-Fender® Long/Short & Non-Fender® Long/Long

Not all of the manufacturers have the full variations mentioned above in normal production…so wait time may vary on a pickup set that the manufacturer considers ‘custom’. Drop us a line for details about specifics.

SIZING & FIT (6 String):

Availability in 6 String Jazz Bass® pickups is fairly limited and pickup lengths are very specific to manufacturer. It is fairly safe to say that a 'standard' truly doesn't exist here.  It would appear that 6 string shells are not made en masse from a plastic supplier in the same way that we see with 4 string pickups (no off-the-shelf shells).  We suspect that the manufacturers listed below are having to get custom shells made to their specs.  There is not a plethora of 6 string non-boutique j basses out in the world. Again, the width is standard between .72” (18.29mm) and .74” (18.8mm).

Aguilar:
- Bridge Pickup ~4.62” (117.35mm)
- Neck Pickup ~4.62” (117.35mm)

Bartolini has a couple different sizing combinations:
- Bridge Pickup ~4.14” (~105mm)
- Neck Pickup ~4.00” (102mm)

- Bridge Pickup ~3.73” (94.7mm)
- Neck Pickup ~3.60” (91.4mm)

Delano:
- Bridge Pickup ~4.12” (104.6mm)
- Neck Pickup ~4.12” (104.6mm)

Nordstrand:
- Bridge Pickup ~4.50” (114.3mm)
- Neck Pickup ~4.50” (114.3mm)

  Are Bridge and Neck Pickups Interchangeable?  

The short answer is no....but it helps to understand why. A couple things make each unique. As mentioned above, pickup length can be a factor, but there are 3 other aspects:

  • Pole piece spacing
  • Coil orientation
  • Voicing

Pole pieces (as well as seen and unseen bar magnets) are located in slightly different locations on bridge and neck pickups. Consider that the distance between strings measured at the nut is significantly less than that string width at the bridge. Even though the 2 pickups are only a few inches apart, it is enough of a difference to be visually different. Even if both pickups are the same size, we still want to use specific bridge or neck pickups in their correct position. For instance: Using two neck pickups would have pole pieces located too narrowly in the bridge position.

With single coil pickups, the coil’s orientation (north/south) is opposing so that when used together, they become hum cancelling. For example, using two ‘bridge’, single coil pickups in a bass will result in bass that never has hum cancelling.

Lastly, manufacturers wind the bridge and neck pickups so that they are voiced slightly differently. Some manufacturers compensate for the position on the bass in a way that keep the bridge pickup from sounding too bright and the neck pickup from sounding too overly round and loose-sounding. Another way, and probably more common is to wind the bridge pickup a little hotter (more output) to compensate for the lower output at this location on the body - smaller amount of string movement.

In the second bass that I built for myself (back in the late 90s), I used what was laying around at Chris Stambaugh's shop in his extra pickup bin. I was building a bass that had j bass pickups, and I ended up using two Bartolini neck 9J1 pickups. These pickups worked...sort of. They are hum-cancelling and I didn’t need to worry about the strings lining up with the pole pieces since they utilize a bar magnet. However, the pickup in the bridge position didn’t sound quite right, as I was using a neck pickup in the bridge pickup position.

  Coils & Humcancelling  

Bass pickups are essentially made of magnets and wire. While those ingredients are simple enough, there are several different ways to construct pickups. Some pickups are built using pole piece magnets, basically little magnetic rods. Other pickups are built using bar magnets (a strip of magnetized metal).

Photo of Split and Single Coil J Pickups Image above:
Single Coil Pickup (left) / Split Coil Pickup (right)

Some definitions to start with:


  • Single Coil Pickups - Single coil refers to the wrapping within a pickup…not the number of magnets. In single coil pickups with pole pieces, the wrap will make a ‘coil’ by encompassing all of the poles in a single wrap. In single coil pickups without pole pieces, there will be just a single magnet that is wrapped by wire. Single coil pickups are the most basic pickup design. In a Jazz Bass®, the neck and bridge pickup are wound out of phase from each other. This causes hum-cancelling when the two pickups are used together. Commonly, the neck is a north polarity and the bridge is a south polarity.
  • Split Coil Pickups - These are built using two coils wound out of phase from each other within one cover. Instead of a single wrap around all of the pole pieces, there will be two wraps of pole pieces, end to end. In a four string bass, the pole pieces for the D & G strings will be wrapped separately from the E & A strings. Why do split coil pickups exist? Mainly, to create hum-cancelling. With the coils out of phase from each other, the pickup can be solo’d and be hum free. This is the most common way to create a noiseless pickup.
  • Stacked Coil Pickups - Another way to accomplish hum-cancelling within a pickup shell is to basically create two pickups within the same shell. In the stacked style of construction, the coil wraps are around all of the pole pieces (or magnet) that serves each pickup, but there is an upper and lower wrap. Each out of phase from the other to cancel hum. These are not very common in bass pickups.

Basic Sonic Differences with Coil Types:

While this is a generalization, single coil pickups tend to have a more open tone that is less compressed than split or stacked coil pickups. Hum-cancelling tends to take out noise in the upper register (air and hiss), and along with it, removes some of the top end or brightness in tone. Often referred to as having a bit of ‘top-end roll off’ or darker tone, split or stacked coil pickups are typically less bright.

Can a split coil hum-cancelling pickup achieve a single coil vintage-era tone?

Carey Nordstrand (Nordstrand Audio) and I discussed this recently. Nordstrand Audio produces the NJ4 (Vintage Single Coil) and the NJ4SV (Split Coil Vintage). The NJ4SV is a pickup that is built to sound as close as possible to a vintage-era single coil.

We talked about how sonically similar the NJ4SV is to the NJ4 - the differences are very minor and for most player's ears, they would need a true A/B test to hear a distinction between the two. Players would likely need to hear the pickups in the same instrument back to back (probably via a recording) to really hear the difference. Even still, it would take a fairly discerning ear. The NJ4SV loses a touch of the top end open-ness, and has a slightly more congested sounding mid-range.



Carey’s recommendation for players that tend to play with the neck or bridge pickup solo’d was to go with a split coil pickup (NJ4SV) and lose the hum, both for live and studio performance.

  GENERAL GUIDANCE WITH PICKUP TONE    

On our Pickup Collections pages, we have some filters to help narrow down the selection. Selecting a ‘COIL TYPE’ and ‘TONE’ will get you quite a ways towards a decision.

We have categorized the pickups into 4 types of tone: Vintage, New Vintage, Modern and High Output.

The Vintage category encompasses pickups where the maker is really aiming to produce pickups that are using vintage-era correct magnets and wire. Often the pickup maker has a particular set of vintage pickups that they love and are trying to emulate. So they have either hand wound or experimented with various winding programs to attain a tone that is as close as possible to their beloved pickup. Some manufacturers (Kloppman comes to mind) are even pre-aging the pickup components. Generally, manufacturers are reproducing 60s and 70s era pickups.  These two eras used different wire types and winding amounts.  60s era pickups are fatter with bigger lows and low mid range, where 70s era pickups tend to be a bit brighter with a tighter low end.

New Vintage describes pickups where the manufacturers are aiming for a pickup that sounds mostly vintage, but admittedly is not vintage era correct. Whether they are using ceramic bar magnets in the case of EMG (JV series) and Bartolini (Classic Bass series), or using two coils for hum-cancelling (Nordstrand NJ4SV) but still winding their pickups with an aim for a more open, single coil, vintage tone, we have chosen to classify them differently because they are not straight up aiming for a vintage-era correct tone.

The pickups in the Modern tone group are kind of a misfit bunch. They are not necessarily aiming for vintage or for big output. While EMGs in general tend to be classified as a ‘modern pickup’, they have a lot of models, so it is not totally fair to fence them in as such. Our Modern pickup classification is a real varied group of pickups that are simply unique. From Delano’s JMVC4 FE/M2 to Bartolini’s 9J’s, these pickups have a lot of variety, and it is worth checking out the descriptions of each to see what is right for you.

Our High Output selections are built with output and power in mind. They are bold and aggressive, simply put.

  SOME FINAL THOUGHTS  

Hopefully this guide has given you some answers as you consider your next set of Jazz Bass® pickups.

Don’t get too intimidated by the volume of choices. For sure, there are a lot of good choices available.

We are regularly offering advice and thoughts to customers about selection, so if you are in decision paralysis or just need to bounce some ideas, drop us a line from the contact page and it will be our pleasure to help.

Find a set for your bass on the following pages:

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